Review by Pete Mason
“The Descendants” is your standard George Clooney film, in that he deserves his Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for Best Actor. In a solid film based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, Clooney channels a second coming of Gregory Peck as a father conflicted with three separate dilemnas: his wife, his daughters and a epic land deal.
Clooney plays Matthew King, a descendent of King Kamehameha who has land on Kaiui that he and his family have to decide what to do with, not a small decision when potentially hundreds of millions of dollars and the future of Hawaiian land deals are at stake. He also has to contend with the dilemma of his wife, whose affair is revealed only after she slips into a coma from a boating accident. Adding to this is his relationship with his daughters that is fragile, to say the least. He is not presented as a workaholic but rather distant from his family, neither a dad nor a father.
King takes advantage of a tragic opportunity to get closer to his daughters, the 17-year-old Alexandra (played by Shailene Woodley), who is resistent to parental relationships as teenagers are wan to be, and the 10-year-old Scottie (played by Amara Miller), who is struggling in school due to her mother’s accident and a lack of supervision. The great acting by both daughters provides King with a chance to interact and develop the relationship without the typical
resistance encountered in the movies where solutions come from a shared ice cream cone. Instead, the entire movie is the development of their relationship and mending of the past, bringing them together at the end in a familial way.
A twist is presented when it is revealed that King’s wife, pre-coma, was having an affair. A side trip to Kauai under other pretenses leads to a confrontation with the other man, played by Matthew Lillard in a prime role. Without being able to deal with the matter of his wife, King confronts not only the intersection of his real estate trust deal, but also his affair and relationship with his daughters, culminating in a final 30 minutes of the movie that are emotional and revealing of the lessons learned by King in the course of these events.
Anchored by the iconic backdrops of three Hawaiian islands, a local drive through Hawaiian neighborhoods and a look at a family’s relationship makes “The Descendents” well deserving of its Oscar Best Picture nomination and a family film for grownups.